Audio and video released by the police department itself confirms the activist’s allegation that he was illegally stopped.
On May 19, 2013, Showing Animals Respect and Kindness (SHARK) president Steve Hindi says he was illegally stopped by the Malheur County Sheriff’s Office for “trespassing” at the 2013 Big Loop Rodeo in Jordan Valley, Ore. And now new footage from the sheriff’s own video and audio recordings proves he was right.
Hindi, who recorded his interaction with the officers and published the footage on the Internet, was told by Deputy Brian Belnap that he was trespassing on the grounds of the Jordan Valley Rodeo, and reasoned that because Hindi was driving a rental car, the officers needed to pull him over to obtain his identification.
Hindi, who called the ordeal “a bogus police stop,” told Belnap he had paid the $10 admittance fee into the rodeo, so he wasn’t trespassing. But Belnap said Hindi was ejected for having a camera at the rodeo, despite the fact that Hindi reported there were no signs prohibiting spectators from filming the rodeo.
However, as pointed out by a local Oregon newspaper, days prior to Hindi’s incident, another SHARK volunteer, Adam Fahnestock, was arrested at the rodeo for filming the event, also by Officer Belnap.
While there were signs that prohibited filming the event, the Eugene Weekly reported that an announcer at the event said that the ban only applied “to people from Western Oregon, animal rights activists, and the media.” The announcer then went on to say that the video ban didn’t apply to the “good folks who want to film their relatives or friends.”
According to Hindi, “Lots of people had cameras, and virtually everyone had phones capable of video.” He added, “The traffic stop appears to be illegitimate, as we can find no law allowing a traffic stop for not providing ID on private property — the stated reason for the stop.”
Several states in the U.S. have passed anti-whistleblower bills, commonly known as “ag-gag” bills, which prevent whistleblowers, animal rights activists and even journalists from filming or taking photos without permission of animal enterprise industries such as factory farms. Concerning for animal rights advocates is that this undercover footage has previously exposed animal abuse, unsafe working conditions and environmental problems.
After the May 19 incident, SHARK launched an investigation into the connections between the Malheur County Sheriff’s Department and the Jordan Valley Rodeo, and has accused the Malheur County Sheriff Officers of violating free speech rights and using intimidation tactics.
In a press release, SHARK released its findings, which included the fact that the Malheur County Sheriff’s Department has direct ties to the Big Loop Rodeo through their deputies. One of the officers is even on the “rodeo board.”
According to the press release, Malheur County Sheriff Brian E. Wolfe has also “defended the Jordan Valley Big Loop Rodeo and horse tripping in a letter sent to the Oregon State Senate Committee on Environment and Natural Resources, which recently held a hearing on a bill to ban ‘horse tripping.’”
SHARK writes that “Wolfe misused his official county stationary and position as Sheriff to made a political statement when he said ‘I personally oppose any and all legislation, laws, or rules prohibiting Rodeo events including Horse Roping.’”
“We now know that the Malheur County Sheriff Officers, the same men who violated the rights of our activists, have deep ties to the rodeo,” Hindi said. “When they saw the cruelty that was documented on the first day, they abused their power on the second and third day to make sure that no more video would make it to public view. That’s outrageous, and the Sheriff’s office needs to be held accountable for acting like thugs protecting a good old boys network of animal abuse and cruelty.”
After the incident, Hindi filed a request under Oregon’s public disclosure laws to obtain the video and audio recordings that the officer’s filmed on their dash cam and their body cameras. What he found was that the officer’s knew what they were doing was wrong and even said so themselves — unaware that the cameras were still recording them.
In Hindi’s recording you can hear Officer Belnap inform him that he is never welcome back to the Jordan Valley Rodeo Club or any of the rodeo’s property. Belnap says that if Hindi goes back he will be arrested.
Aware of his rights, Hindi questions the officer, who after a few minutes of dodging his questions wishes Hindi well and goes back to his car with his partner, Deputy Brian Beck. Once in the car, Belnap and Beck can be heard saying the following:
“Let’s write that VIN number down, that’s a personal car I’m guessing.” Hindi comments on the video that there is no legitimate reason to do this.
“He’s already going to get lawyers…”
“He says he is…”
“This… this guy is the real deal… This guy is the one that posted everything last year on his site for …”
“That’s fine. We didn’t do anything wrong…”
“Here’s the problem; they didn’t trespass him when we were there… they asked him to leave.”
“That’s fine. We didn’t do anything wrong…”
“Well… Even so, we’re going off what we were told.”
“I wasn’t there so…”
“I didn’t want to stop the man… God, we’re going to get sued…”
“Perhaps, you’re right.”
“We’re going to be in a world of hurt here… It’s all because of that rodeo board. You know that, right? Damnit! I was still recording!”